by | Sep 25, 2005 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Sometimes a story is just a boring rock. But if you throw that rock hard enough into the water, you get a new story: the ripples.

I’m afraid that’s what’s happened with the recent “racial divide” story out of Livonia.

In case you missed it, this was once about Wal-Mart. The retail giant had been fighting to get a new supercenter in Livonia. Among the objections were Wal-Mart destroys other businesses and snarls traffic.

Neither of those got the hot spotlight that shone on stupid comments from Livonia residents.

According to Free Press reports, during public meetings on the Wal-Mart proposal, some Livonia folks complained that a new Wal-Mart would bring more black people.

One woman said she was treated badly by a black Wal-Mart salesperson because she was a “honky.”

And several residents mentioned Livonia becoming a “ghetto.”

These are ignorant comments, hardly original and only marginally significant.

But take that dull rock and throw it in the water, and watch the ripples of anger spread.

Not speaking for everyone

Now, let’s accept something. If you open microphones in this country, you are going to hear stupidity. Trust me. I host a radio talk show five days a week. If we put every screaming fool who called in on the air, you would hang your head and weep for humanity.

So it didn’t surprise me that a few dopes expressed dumb fears about black people. But just because they spoke into a microphone doesn’t mean they speak for their town.

Our reaction should have been, “Hey, there’s fools in every community. Ignore them.” Instead, we had the typical media hand-wringing over the state of race today, and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, fresh off his suggestion that suburban white kids were drug addicts, said in a statement that people should be “outraged.”

Over what? Stupidity? Sorry. But if we’re going to get outraged at every dumb remark by every head-in-the-sand redneck, we’re going to burst a blood vessel.

Were these elected officials? Did someone get shot at that meeting? Did anyone use the n-word? Why should this spawn front-page stories about race relations today?

All that we heard in Livonia were the same prejudiced remarks made over dinner tables every day. If you think no one in Birmingham has ever expressed fear about too many blacks moving in, wake up.

And if anyone thinks no blacks in Detroit have ever expressed racist thoughts about Mexicans in their town, or Mexicans about Arabs, or Arabs about Jews, wake up, too.

Remember what works

I know it’s de rigueur for journalists to go spasmodic over every racist comment, but maybe we should remember what our parents told us about bullies: Sometimes it’s best to ignore them.

Instead, we should focus on what works. For every overwhelmingly white Livonia, there is a Southfield or Harper Woods, where racial mixing is on the rise. For every angry public meeting, there is a Pistons parade that mixes a million varied residents.

Why are we shouting that Livonia is “the whitest city in America” when Birmingham and Grosse Pointe are actually whiter, just not as large? Besides, Detroit could be the blackest city in America. Great. Where does that get us?

Nowhere. Same as getting all twisted over a few dumb citizens on open mike night.

I can tell you this much: Somewhere Wal-Mart is laughing. While we were busy pointing righteous fingers, its supercenter was approved.

You splash a rock of a story, you can make exciting ripples, it’s true. But you also may end up with a lot of people throwing unnecessary stones at each other.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). “Monday Sports Albom” is 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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